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14 Facts That Rocked My Neapolitan Pizza World

 

Lately, I have been on a Neapolitan pizza kick.     As a transplant to the state of Alabama, I have been using a pamphlet and phone-app that was put out by Alabama Tourism entitled “100 Dishes To Eat In Alabama Before You Die.”   I enjoy putting miles on my car and learning everything possible about this new state that I now call home, I attempt to write about my stops on Tuesdays. The most recent blog was about my visit to Bettola of Birmingham for Neapolitan pizza.   Bettola Neapolitan Pizza This visit was a pivotal food experience for me and I found it difficult to write that blog in short. Why? This visit had me practicing my skills in Italian, considering high-quality ingredients and techniques used for centuries in the Naples region of Italy. I left with so many questions. Frankly, there was a lot to learn.

I was very curious and the answers to my questions got me thinking; what if a Bettola customer has only had only pizza experience with Dominos or the like? What if this customer doesn’t know much about the high-quality ingredients that exceed the standards of taste?  What if the customer does not have knowledge of the long hours, and even centuries of learning that goes into this type of pizza? What if a customer never knew there was such a thing as food television and thus never had even heard of Neapolitan this or that? What if the customer doesn’t read Italian or know another Latin based language? Would they be intimidated by their experience? Or, would they be inspired to create this pizza and learn everything about the history and ingredients of this pizza?  Which questions might they ask themselves?   I had so many questions.

Who knew that a seemingly simple pizza with three main ingredients and one topping can become elaborate once the layers are peeled. Let’s peel.   Interested in my trip? Come on down the rabbit hole with me,  and get schooled in the Neapolitan way.

  1. So what does Neapolitan mean? Neapolitan is a citizen of Naples or a word relating to Naples. So Neapolitan Pizza is pizza from the region of Naples.
  2.  A.V.P.N. Certification. What is this?  Associazion  Verace Pizza Napoletana means, “true pizza.” This designation is awarded to the pizzeria that meets a set of standards set by  A.V.P.N. Only a handful of folks in North America have met these requirements.   Here are a few of the standards. In short, they must go through training and become certified in making the pizza as it has been for centuries, with those same techniques and ingredients in an approved oven. It is more detailed than that. Certain size, shape, heat of oven. It really is interesting. I have provided a link here for further reading. AVPN website-training page Once the designation is secured, the restaurant is able to use this logo of authenticity.
  3.  WTH is a D.O.C. status? This status has earned the E.U. (European Union D.O.C. Donominazion di origine contrallata.) In our English language, this means that it is controlled with a stamp of authenticity from The European Union. According to “The 100 Dishes app and Chef Lewis.” The pizza carries a D.O.C. status, which was defined by the Italian government in 1998 and stands for Donominazione de Origine Controllata. “It tells the consumer that this item is original and authentic based on where it comes from,” Lewis says. “You can go buy cheap mozzarella, cheap flour, cheap tomatoes, but it will never come out the same because you are not using those quality ingredients.” Chef Lewis  Source: Thanks for great write Al.com Al.com Bettola
  4. What’s the deal on San Marzano tomatoes? A San Marzano tomato is a variety that many chefs believe to be the very best in the world.   An heirloom plum tomato variety, grown in the Valle del Sarno or the valley Sarno, an near Naples, Italy. The canned tomatoes can be classified as Sarno, Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino. In order to have a true Neapolitan pizza, the sauce must have this type of tomato.   This tomato will have a D.O.C. stamped on the can. Which brings me to my next question.
  5. What the heck is Bufala Mozzarella or Buffalo Mozzarella? It is milk made from the domesticated Water Buffalo. This is traditionally produced in the Campania region of Italy. (South.)  Again, for a true Neopolitan pizza, this cheese must come from Mozzarella di bufana Campana region to earn the D.O.C. stamp. I am a Wisconsin cheese advocate, as my followers will know. There is some fantastic buffalo cheese coming locally out of  Wisconsin and a few other U.S. farms, but again, to be true Neapolitan pizza, this product must come from this region of Italy. The milk is different than a cows milk in that it has higher levels of protein and fats in the milk producing a creamy cheese.  A fun fact-Although this milk has a higher butter fat content, it also holds health benefits. It also has significantly higher protein, calcium and iron levels.
  6. What’s the deal on European Flour? When one reads that the flour used in this type of pizza is a European unbleached and unprocessed flour, one might say “lah-ti-dah.” Here is the deal, to get this type of perfection in a crust, that crackly-thin layer of crispness, a nice open and airy structure, and just a bit of of chew this is the flour that gets the job done.   And don’t even get me started on GMO’s in U.S. flour. On my ‘100 app” and according to Chef Lewis, this type of flour has a lower sugar  gluten content, this is crucial to the crust obtaining a crispness without the burn or the char.  Next question, what is… Once again, credit to Al.com for the description of the flour in the words of Chef Lewis.
  7.  What’s Char-Your pizza will have some charring. This is preferred. I have read that if a pizza chef is truly and actually Neapolitan-trained, the crust will have a nice browning. It’s a hot oven, 900 degrees. So that’s the deal.
  8. Is Neapolitan Pizza supposed to be “soggy” in the middle?  The nasty word soggy is not my word.  When I read a few reviews that were not perfect, I noticed these comments were more an error on the customer’s understanding. So here is what up with that. The people of Naples like it that way. Leave it alone or go home. I wouldn’t say that the Neapolitan pizza that I have tasted is “soggy;” rather it is different that an entirely crisp crust on the bottom. Yet the Neapolitan pizzas that I have tried do have a slight crunch even in the middle.  Some say this is why it doesn’t taste as good served as a leftover.  *See below YouTube link for a good view.   This brings me to my next question.
  9. Sliced or not sliced? It may not be sliced, this keeps it from getting soggy from the oven to the table. I do this with all of my home-baked pizza’s, let them rest for 5 minutes.
  10. How long does this pizza take? the process sounds so involved?  A lot of the work put into this pizza has taken place before your arrival.  Once put together, the pie is cooked in wood-fired oven at 900 degrees and cooked for a mere 1.5 minutes. Chef Lewis further describes the pie as “… nicely warmed but still alive, and you can taste the freshness.
  11. How much to order, I read that these pizzas are meant to be eaten by one person? When I asked, “Is one pizza enough for two?” The staff at Bettola diplomatically stated that” it is enough, and especially with shared sides.  It is also not too much for one person…”My translation based upon my new schooling in Neapolitan style pizza that the pies are generally around a 12 inches.
  12. Why do the toppings appear sparse to me?  ****This may be the single most important fact that I have learned. Neapolitan pizza is best enjoyed when each ingredient is tasted.
  13. What is the proper way to eat this pizza?  Seriously? this is another blog.  You will likely need silverware. There is the inside-out-method, traditional method, the slice and roll method.  I would think there likely are other methods.   Neapolitan Pizza Eating Methods YouTube  I added this link because it depicts the sauce in the middle.
  14. Is Neapolitan Pizza the ultimate in pizza?   My opinion is that it is just one way to eat the ever evolving pizzas.  Myself, a traditionalist, love red sauce and mozzarealla. My brother-in-law owns a pizza business and I have often been able to try new concotions.  Once in a while, I like a pizza that is not traditional.  That is how the pizza world spins.   I recently read a great article by Adam Kuban, a true pizza expert,  This author makes a great point. “One thing I always like to point out whenever the VPN debate comes up on Slice* is that the best pizza I’ve ever had has come from non-VPN-certified places.Often, these non-VPN places could easily qualify for certification if they wanted to.Sometimes I think that the VPN places are a little too hung up on “authenticity”** and that in the quest to do things just so, they deny themselves the opportunity to reach for something greater — to try combining toppings and ingredients that might not necessarily be used in Naples.” -Adam Kuban WhaT is VPB by Adam Kuban

Having visited other Neapolitan pizza places, Bettola makes a top notch authentic style pizza.  The staff is extremely knowledgeable and kind in a way that encourages great communication for your experience.  Even though I have eaten pizza in the south of Italy, my visit to Bettola has given me a new-found appreciation for Neapolitan pizza.  I hope that this blog will help others think about the art of pizza, slow-food and real ingredients.  Certainly, I hope that I got facts straight and honor Chef Lewis of Bettola and all Neapolitan pizza chefs.

Megatips:

  1. Since you have read this, find your nearest Neapolitan pizza place and try the pie.
  2. Cook your pizza and pasta sauce with San Marzano tomatoes, you will never go back.
  3. GO FO IT-order your own Neapolitan pie, you can swap slices with friends, or not.
  4. Support local cheese makers.  I grew up in an area of Wisconsin that saw many Dutch, German and Irish settlers.  An area dense with Master Cheese Makers, that deserve our business. Cedar Grove Buffalo Cheese-Wisconsin with links to articles. That said, U.S. laws often prohibit raw cheese-stupid law!
  5. Support your local restaurants and chefs.

 

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